It’s easy to overlook Campton Place. A dim, narrow passage near Union Square in San Francisco, the little-known alleyway is like most other backstreet connectors. But for five years, the Union Square Business Improvement District (USBID) has had other ideas. Now, Academy of Art University students are helping ideas become reality for a vivid city space.
Two concepts, by School of Landscape Architecture undergraduates Christie Choy and Jake Walter, have captured the imagination of USBID. The landscape architecture students’ concepts are to be combined in a bright, pedestrian-friendly environment intended to transform Campton Place into a destination.
Choy and Walter were part of three studio classes led by Landscape Architecture Director Jeff McLane and instructor Mark Yin. In the classes, a total of 12 students reimagined Campton Place as an attraction. For USBID, the effort is a pivot from the district’s usual duties.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of cleaning up and making Union Square a safer space, and [now] we want to reclaim the alleyway for pedestrians,” says Bri Caspersen, USBID senior project coordinator. “Now that streets are clean and safe, it’s important to make them destinations for people to come to.”
On April 17, a select audience of USBID members and consultants, building owners, professional landscape architects, and other stakeholders tuned in to Zoom to see what the future of Campton Place could look like.
Using an online platform, the students talked about their inspirations and process for the project. The end results were Instagram-worthy—pops of color, living walls, large murals and bespoke seating areas—but students didn’t aim to just design something beautiful.
Stepping Outside the Theoretical
There were problems to be solved: lack of light in the alley, narrow space, potential for crime. The students learned to design keeping in mind permits, restrictions, approved concepts—like paint, lighting and budgets.
They learned that landscape is “a series of systems,” says McLane. “Human systems, ecological systems, social systems, legal systems.
“It’s a step outside of the theoretical. The context for this design is more real-world in terms of the role that landscape plays in a city or economy, and not just from a design point of view. What was at stake was much higher.”
Adds Caspersen, “They had to think about not just what they aesthetically and functionally wanted to put in the alley for activation, but also the backend logistical and operational capacity and costs at place.”
In Choy’s concept, safety is the main concern. Her solution? A “saturated color party,” where she employs a retro palette of blues and oranges throughout the alley. The centerpiece—a pixelated, gradient design—runs the entire length of her concept. The environment includes string lights, planters and murals.
“Because the street is so narrow and it’s always dark, even in the daytime, I thought adding color was the straightforward way to solve this problem,” says Choy. “My idea was to create something that would catch people’s eyes.”
Speaking Tubes and Artworks
Walter’s alley is bold and interactive. Thick bands of StreetBond, a sustainable city-approved paint, crisscross the pavement and up the walls. Speaking tubes connect the outside alley to surrounding restaurants and galleries. Installations from contemporary artists are part of the concept.
Francisco Mendoza, also an undergraduate, envisioned a food pushcart program to bring food into the alley. Limber Li, a graduate student, developed her alley around the way bubbles cluster. Another grad student, Antje Kann, filled Campton Place with optical illusions and an overhanging light tunnel.
Overall, evaluators left the presentation highly impressed. They hope to incorporate other student designs into upcoming alley projects.
“Super inspiring. A lot of them were very feasible, in general,” says Caspersen of the students’ work. She notes the Campton project has seen roadblock after roadblock—but seeing the students’ ideas was invigorating. “It was just a fresh look at the space even with the constraints that we gave them. They had so many great ideas that we hadn’t even thought of.”
The final design plan for Campton Place is to combine Choy’s saturated colors with Walters’ painted bands and speaking tubes.
“[Walters’] street pavement mural proposal is perfectly designed for this alley,” Caspersen says. “[Choy’s] proposal focused on our primary concerns of the street pavement mural and lighting, while also proposing additional features, including Instagram-able murals.”
Portfolios and Beyond
For students, having their fingerprints on a real city project isn’t just a standout portfolio piece to accompany a landscape architecture degree. It’s a fundamental experience in the discipline.
Choy says this project was about making quick decisions and trusting your gut. “Stop overthinking and let the ideas flow,” She advises. “Make a decision, then start incorporating your site analysis, what the problem is, and how you’re going to solve it. It’s really about multi-tasking.”
Images courtesy of the School of Landscape Architecture
Original article by Nina Tabios of Academy Art U News, https://artunews.com/
Hero image courtesy of the School of Landscape Architecture